Sunday, October 18, 2009

An Autumn Trip To The Tetons

Ok...better late than never with this trip. I've been back for almost two weeks now (we visited the area Oct 1-4), but have been too busy to post about it. My wife and I spent four wonderful days in Grand Teton National Park and I can certainly see why it is such a popular destination for autumn photography. While the weather only cooperated for a couple of those days, they were two very special days in my book and definitely made the long drive to get there worth the while.

Buck and Pole Fence Leading To The Tetons

Before discussing the trip itself, I should back up and make mention of all my pre-trip worries. First off, I kept hearing how the cottonwood colors along the Snake River were far from spectacular this year as they were simply turning a dull orangish, brown. Yuck! Far worse than that were the fire issues going on. In particular, a fire in the vicinity of Mt. Moran in the northern part of the park (started by lightning) was being allowed to burn and was casting a smoky haze over the entire park. From the images I saw, this was horribly affecting most photographic possibilities (with the exception of a few nice sunset shots). Double yuck!!

The day of the trip brought discussion of high winds with snow throughout much of the Rocky Mountain region. This turned out to be good and bad. Good in that the powers that be saw the danger of allowing the fire to burn during such windy conditions and decided that it needed to be put out. End of the fire issue. The snow that the park received also helped to clear the air. End of the hazy sky conditions. Woo Hoo. Of course, there's no free lunch and we payed for this turn of events by having to make the long drive in difficult conditions. Snowfall, heavy at times, dogged us through the Wasatch Range in Utah and throughout our journey north through Wyoming. It was all worth it though when I got up the following morning and drove out to Schwabacher's Landing (along the Snake River) with a fresh layer of snow covering the valley floor. Despite the fact that the mountains were hidden behind a cloak of heavy clouds, it was a beautiful sight!

Unfortunately, the mountains refused to make an appearance all day so a good part of the it was spent location scouting and searching for wildlife. I quickly discovered that the place to be in the park was the Oxbow Bend area in the northern section as the aspens were peaking with glorious colors. This made the decision of where to shoot the following morning a no-brainer. My only hope was that the mountains would make an appearance by then.

Oxbow Bend Panoramic

An early wake-up in our hotel in Jackson had me keeping my fingers crossed. I saw nothing but stars overhead, but there are no vantage points to the Tetons from town (they're obscured behind surrounding buttes) and it wasn't until we had driven for 10 minutes or so that I began to see the silhouettes of the peaks. Things got even better when we arrived at Oxbow Bend to find steam rising off the water and more low hanging clouds sitting over Jackson lake, but not completely obscuring Mt. Moran. Even in the dark I was getting excited about the photographic prospects that lay ahead. I wasn't disappointed as it blossomed into a beautiful sunrise that I got share with about a hundred of my closest friends (the many other photographers who knew this was THE morning to photograph this location)!

Oxbow Bend At Dawn

The superb conditions lasted a number of hours as low hanging clouds clung to the entire range making for some wonderful atmospherics to compliment the magnificent scenery. I was in heaven all morning!

Teton Reflection

The latter half of that day was spent in search of wildlife as the sky completely cleared off and the landscape prospects were not all that appealing. A majority of the scenic locations within the park are far better shot in the morning anyway as the Tetons lie to the west and receive great morning light. Getting back to the wildlife topic, I must say that we were very disappointed with our efforts to get satisfying shots. It wasn't for the lack of finding subjects. We saw plenty of moose, bison, antelope, and even a couple of black bears. We just couldn't get them close enough and/or in pleasing locations not obscured by a buzzillion branches and twigs. Still, it was fun just to be able to be in the presence of such magnificent animals.

The remainder of our trip was so-so or poor photographically. The following morning was a cold and clear 10 degrees and, while the view from Schwabacher Landing was nice, it just didn't compare to the wonderful conditions of the previous morning.

Classic Schwabacher Landing Sunrise View

The evening saw a build up of cloud cover in advance of another approaching winter storm so we spent it hoping to get some decent shots of the bull moose being sighted near the Oxbow Bend area. Unfortunately, our efforts were in vain. Our last day was overcast with periodic snow and high winds. It seemed like a good time to finally bow to my wife's wishes to spend some quality time in the shops of Jackson. Over dinner we both agreed that a return trip in the spring to photograph the wildflower bloom was a must-do. I can't wait!

To see a collection of my images from the trip, click on the link below...

Autumn in the Tetons

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